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Best Airline Credit Cards of September 2023

Written by: Tracy Stewart | Edited by: Jeanine Skowronski | Reviewed by: Stephanie Zito
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September 26, 2023

Best Airline Credit Cards of 2023

Additional Options:

  • Citi Premier® Card: Best for JetBlue/TrueBlue
BEST FOR LUXURY TRAVEL PERKS
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Our rating:4.8 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Clicking “See your approval odds” will authorize us to run a soft credit pull, which we’ll need to estimate your approval odds. Approval Odds serve as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

5X
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5X
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

At A Glance

Intro offer
Earn 80,000 points Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Annual fee
$695
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Your approval oddsClicking “See your approval odds” will authorize us to run a soft credit pull, which we’ll need to estimate your approval odds. Approval Odds serve as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
BEST FOR UNLIMITED MILES ON PURCHASES
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:5.0 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.
Clicking “See your approval odds” will authorize us to run a soft credit pull, which we’ll need to estimate your approval odds. Approval Odds serve as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.

Rewards rate

10 Miles
10 Miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5 Miles
5 Miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel
2 Miles
2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

At A Glance

Intro offer
75,000 miles Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
Annual fee
$395
Regular APR
21.99% - 28.99% variable
Your approval oddsClicking “See your approval odds” will authorize us to run a soft credit pull, which we’ll need to estimate your approval odds. Approval Odds serve as a guide to help you find the right credit card and will never affect your credit score.
BEST FOR NO ANNUAL FEE
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

1.5X
Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire.

At A Glance

Intro offer
25,000 points 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
18.24% - 28.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
BEST FOR REWARDS VALUE
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Our rating:4.9 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

5x
5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
3x
3x on dining
2x
2x on all other travel purchases, plus more

At A Glance

Intro offer
60,000 bonus points Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
21.49% - 28.49% variable
BEST FOR SOUTHWEST AIRLINES
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Our rating:4.5 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

2X
Earn 2X points on Southwest® purchases.
2X
Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
2X
Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming.
2X
Earn 2X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners.
1X
Earn 1X points on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro offer
Earn 50,000 points Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Annual fee
$69
Regular APR
21.49% - 28.49% variable
BEST FOR LESS FREQUENT TRAVELERS
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

5 Miles
5 Miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
1.25 Miles
1.25 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

At A Glance

Intro offer
20,000 miles Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
19.99% - 29.99% variable
BEST FOR AIRLINE MILES FLEXIBILITY
Discover it® Miles
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Rewards rate

1.5X
Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.

At A Glance

Intro offer
Discover Match® Unlimited Bonus: Only Discover gives you an unlimited match of all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There's no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
17.24% - 28.24% variable
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For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.


Comparing the best airline miles credit cards

Credit cardBest ForAnnual feeIntro bonusRequired spend for intro bonus
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardGeneral airline credit card
$95
75,000 miles$4,000 in the first three months
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressLuxury travel perks
$695
80,000 Membership Rewards® Points$8,000 on purchases in the first six months
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit CardUnlimited miles on purchases
$395
75,000 miles$4,000 on purchases in the first three months
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit cardNo annual fee$025,000 points$1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardRewards value
$95
60,000 points$4,000 on purchases in the first three months
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Southwest Airlines$6950,000 points$1,000 on purchases in the first three months
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit CardLess frequent travelers$020,000 miles$500 on purchases in the first three months
American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp®American Airlines$010,000 AAdvantage® miles and a $50 statement credit$500 on purchases in the first three months
Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card
Alaska Airlines$95Limited time online offer: Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ + 40,000 bonus miles
Buy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) and get 40,000 bonus miles
$3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
Discover it® MilesAirline miles flexibility$0All miles earned at the end of the first 12 months will be matchedN/A
Citi Premier® CardJetBlue/TrueBlue$9560,000 points$4,000 on purchases in the first three months

Editor’s picks: Airline rewards credit card details

Best general airline credit card: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Best features: You can really rack up travel rewards with this popular travel credit card from Capital One. The Venture Rewards Credit Card offers unlimited 2X miles on every purchase and 5X miles on hotel stays and rental cars booked through the Capital One Travel portal (miles are currently valued at 2 cents per mile*). That means you can earn rewards from everyday purchases that you can use toward flights with a wide range of airlines, including over 15 partners that allow you to transfer points 1:1. You can also use your rewards for statement credits for other travel purchases within the last 90 days.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The current list of airline travel partners doesn’t include other large U.S. carriers. There’s a $95 annual fee not waived the first year.
  • Alternatives: The Citi Premier® Card offers a higher rewards rate in several spending categories, including restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets, at 3X points. Plus, for a limited time, earn a total of 10X points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel portal through June 30, 2024. While general purchases only earn 1X points, those who spend more in higher-rate rewards categories could do well.
  • Bottom line: If you travel frequently but don’t always fly the same carrier, this general-purpose travel credit card might give you the most bang for your buck. That said, airline loyalists may prefer to go with a co-branded airline card.

Read our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for luxury travel perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Best features: The popular premium card from American Express comes fully loaded with luxury travel benefits, including top-tier travel insurance, perhaps the most comprehensive airport lounge access available and elite hotel perks like complimentary hotel loyalty status with Marriott and Hilton. However, the Amex Platinum card’s features stand out because they include one of the most valuable lists of annual statement credits on the market.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The $695 annual fee is a big commitment, so carefully consider whether you travel enough to justify the price. You must redeem travel rewards through American Express Travel – and, unlike with many Chase credit cards, you won’t get a bonus for doing so. Some of the travel credits come with caveats that make them a bit tricky to track or maximize. For instance, the Platinum comes with up to a $200 Airline Fee Credit per calendar year but the credit can only be used at one select qualifying airline.
  • Alternatives: The American Express® Gold Card comes with similar perks but at a lower annual fee.
  • Bottom line: This card ticks off all the boxes for big spenders and frequent travelers looking for luxury travel perks, particularly complimentary airport lounge access. But the sky-high annual fee is tough to justify if you only fly a handful of times a year, rarely dine out and hardly ever stay at hotels.

Read our The Platinum Card® from American Express review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for unlimited miles on purchases: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

  • Best features: This premium rewards card offers the best way to earn unlimited travel miles from Capital One, including an impressive 10X miles on hotel stays and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5X miles on Capital One Travel flights and a flat-rate 2X miles on all other purchases. Beyond rewards, the Venture X adds extra value to your wallet with high-end benefits like a $300 annual travel credit, complimentary airport lounge access and a credit worth up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The $395 annual fee is a bargain compared to other premium credit cards, but it might still be too much for some.
  • Alternatives: While the Chase Sapphire Reserve® does have a higher annual fee than the Venture X, it also offers more in terms of redemption value. You’ll get 50% more value from your points when you redeem for travel with Chase (1.5 cents per point).
  • Bottom line: This card is a great fit for travel enthusiasts with excellent credit who plan to take advantage of enough premium benefits to make the annual fee worth it but prefer streamlined travel miles.

Read our Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

  • Best features: There’s a lot going for this travel card, including considerable rewards and few restrictions – and that’s with no annual fee. For example, earn 1.5X points on all purchases. No annual fee means that you don’t have to track your earnings to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
  • Biggest drawbacks: You won’t get a boost by redeeming points for travel through the Bank of America Travel center. If you redeem points for cash, your points are only worth 0.6 cents each.
  • Alternatives: The Discover it® Miles card carries a similar 1.5X miles rewards rate on all purchases for no annual fee. However, less frequent travelers will also be able to redeem their miles for cash back without losing rewards value.
  • Bottom line: If you’re committed to avoiding an annual fee, this general-purpose travel card is one of your best options so long as you’re all right forgoing fancy travel perks.

Read our Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for rewards value: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

  • Best features: Frequent fliers can rack up rewards pretty quickly with this solid general-purpose travel credit card from Chase. It offers 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 2X points on other travel purchases and 3X points on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs). Plus, you’ll receive 10% of your total purchases last year back as annual bonus points. All of these points can then be redeemed for 25% more value toward Chase Ultimate Rewards travel, or they could even be worth 2 cents apiece on average* with the right Chase transfer partner.
  • Biggest drawbacks: The card’s $95 annual fee might price this card out of a frugal flier’s budget.
  • Alternatives: If you have a tendency to spend heavily on travel, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card is a higher-end version of the Sapphire Preferred. Cardmembers receive a $300 travel credit that can be applied to airfares, baggage fees, and more. Yes, its $550 annual fee is steep but the perks could be worth it for some.
  • Bottom line: If you travel frequently but don’t often fly with a specific carrier, this general-purpose travel rewards credit card will net you a nice return on flights  – and then some! But despite its broad appeal, travelers on tighter budgets may still prefer a no-annual-fee card. Everyday spenders may want to consider pairing no-annual-fee Chase cards with the Sapphire Preferred to squeeze more value from their rewards.

Read our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for Southwest airlines: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

  • Best features: It not only earns 2X points on Southwest purchases (plus partner hotel and rental car bookings), but it also offers the same rewards rates for a few popular everyday purchases, including local transit (including rideshares), select streaming services and cable, phone and internet services. Luckily, yearly perks such as 3,000 bonus points and two EarlyBird Check-Ins can more than make up for the card’s $69 annual fee.
  • Biggest drawbacks: Southwest doesn’t have airline partners, so the only rewards flights you can book are with Southwest.
  • Alternatives: The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card offers a similar rewards value, and Delta’s expansive flight network may be a more attractive option to some travelers.
  • Bottom line: The Rapid Rewards Plus is an excellent starter Southwest card if you’re not sure you’ll be able to take advantage of the higher-tier Southwest credit cards. But if you don’t fly Southwest often, don’t live near a Southwest hub, or mostly travel internationally, this card isn’t a match for you.

Read our Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for less frequent travelers: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

  • Best features: This straightforward travel rewards credit card lets you earn 1.25X miles on general purchases without paying an annual fee. Cardholders also earn 20,000 miles if they spend $500 in your first three months, which is equal to $200 in travel rewards. There’s no minimum to start redeeming rewards.
  • Biggest drawbacks: Capital One is thin on major U.S. airline partners. You could conceivably earn more with the Venture Rewards Credit Card, even though it charges a $95 annual fee. (Learn how to decide between the Capital One Venture cards.)
  • Alternatives: Big spenders may find the Discover it® Miles to be a better short-term value. It matches miles earned at the end of your first year, and there’s no cap on how much you can potentially earn. When it comes to long-term value, you can redeem Discover miles for cash back at an equal 1 cent per mile if you don’t travel often.
  • Bottom line: If you like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, but can’t stomach its annual fee or aren’t quite sure if you’ll travel enough to justify the charge, consider this card a solid alternative. That said, frequent travelers may be better off with a higher flat-rate rewards card or one with bonus categories that allows them to maximize earnings.

Read our Capital One VentureOne review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for American Airlines: American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp®

  • Best features: For no annual fee, you can earn 2X miles on both American Airlines and grocery store purchases. Plus, American Airlines offers one of the largest travel networks in the world, and AAdvantage miles (valued at 1 cent*) can be transferred to dozens of airline, hotel and car rental partners.
  • Biggest drawbacks: Redeeming AAdvantage miles can be complicated; you’ll have to navigate blackout dates and award seats are limited.
  • Alternatives: The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card also has no annual fee and doesn’t limit you to just one airline. Cardmembers earn 1.5X points on all purchases, which can add up quickly.
  • Bottom line: While this is a great starter airline credit card for people who fly American Airlines, those who do not fly American or even live near an American hub may want to keep looking.

Read our American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card

  • Best features: There’s a rewarding limited-time online bonus that lets you earn Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ and 40,000 bonus miles. Buy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) and get 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. You’ll also receive a companion fare from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) each year on your account anniversary, (after you spend $6,000 or more on purchases within the prior anniversary year).
  • Biggest drawbacks: The card carries a $95 annual fee, so be sure you fly Alaska Airlines enough for the long haul to justify adding it to your wallet.
  • Alternatives: With a slightly lower annual fee ($69 versus $95), the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card can help you earn a Companion Pass if you aren’t able to fly with Alaska Airlines often. However, it’ll take much more work since you’ll need to earn 135,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights with Southwest per calendar year to be eligible for the airline’s Companion Pass offer (beginning Jan. 1, 2023). You’ll earn a 10,000 qualifying point head start each year as a Southwest cardholder.
  • Bottom line: If you fly Alaska Airlines with a companion even once or twice a year, you’re likely to appreciate this card’s benefits.

Read our full Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for airline miles flexibility: Discover it® Miles

  • Best features: You’ll enjoy a wide range of travel redemption options, including airfare, hotels, car rentals, travel packages, taxis and public transportation – and can even redeem miles for cash back (Discover it® Miles are worth 1 cent each*).
  • Biggest drawbacks: On the flip side, you can’t transfer your miles to airline partners. This means the card’s value drops significantly after the first-year cash back match compared to cards with transfer partners.
  • Alternatives: Those who travel less frequently may prefer the no-annual-fee Capital One VentureOne card which earns 1.25X miles on general purchases and can redeem rewards through Capital One transfer partners.
  • Bottom line: Anyone on the hunt for a straightforward, general-purpose travel rewards credit card should enjoy the Discover it® Miles card. But frequent travelers may get less mileage since miles cannot be transferred to airline frequent flier programs.

Read our Discover it® Miles review or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Best for JetBlue: Citi Premier® Card

  • Best features: You earn 3X points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels, which makes this card more flexible than traditional airline cards for everyday expenses. Plus, for a limited time, earn a total of 10X points per $1 spent on hotel, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel portal through June 30, 2024. You can then transfer your ThankYou points to Citi’s partner airline programs like TrueBlue/JetBlue and several international brands like Etihad Guest Miles and Flying Blue (Air France, KLM). Typically you’ll get a 1:1 match, meaning that 1,000 ThankYou Points equals 1,000 JetBlue TrueBlue points.
  • Biggest drawbacks: There’s a $95 annual fee that isn’t waived, although if you use this card often, you will more than recoup that charge. Most of Citi’s airline transfer partners are international carriers, so this may not be an ideal fit for those who fly exclusively domestic. You’ll also have to book travel through Citi.
  • Alternatives: With American Express® Gold Card, you earn 4X points on popular spending categories like restaurant purchases, U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1X points), plus 3X points on airfare booked directly with airlines or the American Express Travel portal. JetBlue is also an Amex transfer partner, so you’ll be able to use your points toward JetBlue flights as well.
  • Bottom line: This card lets you earn rewards on a combination of travel purchases and everyday expenses, making it a safe pick for anyone unsure of which type of rewards credit card to get.

Read our Citi Premier Card review.


What are airline credit cards and how do they work?

Airline credit cards are typically aligned with airlines to bring you rewards specific to that brand, although there has been a movement in the last year to offer boosted general rewards as well. Called co-branded cards, these products reward you for loyalty to that brand through in-flight purchases and tickets, as well as brand-specific benefits.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to pick a card partnering with an airline you’ll actually use, or there’s no point in earning all those miles. For example, American Airlines has a hub in Charlotte, while United has a hub in Houston, and Delta is based out of Atlanta. Where you live and go should factor into your decision.

“Airline cards are especially valuable when you’re loyal to a particular carrier,” says Ted Rossman, CreditCards.com’s industry analyst. “The miles you earn through a sign-up bonus and your ongoing spending can quickly earn you a free trip. Plus, airline cards often offer additional perks such as free checked bags and priority boarding. Many of them charge annual fees, but they can be recouped quickly. For example, a $95 annual fee equals roughly three checked bags. A family could come out ahead after just one flight.”

In addition to co-branded cards, there are general-purpose travel credit cards that partner with airlines for redeeming points or miles, such as Capital One Venture Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

What is the difference between an airline credit card and a general travel credit card?

Though they are both handy for travelers, there are clear differences between an airline card and a general-purpose travel card. For starters, an airline card offers rewards for loyalty to one specific carrier or alliance whereas a general-purpose travel card partners with multiple airline brands. If your closest airport happens to be a designated hub for a particular airline, you might find that airline’s branded credit card to be the most convenient.

With an airline credit card, you can often earn boosted rewards on travel and in-flight purchases. A general-purpose travel credit card tends to reward for a variety of categories, sometimes even offering rewards for all purchases. More recently, airline credit cards have begun to reward for everyday spending in categories such as groceries, although it isn’t nearly as common as with general-purpose cards. General travel cards also offer benefits such as Global Entry or TSA Precheck credits, while airline cards might offer complimentary checked baggage, seating upgrades and lounge access.

Pros and cons of an airline credit card

Pros

  • Travel value. The points and miles you earn can be put towards future travel, and they’re especially valuable when used to book business class seats. However, you’ll still be on the hook for applicable taxes and fees.
  • Travel perks. Airline credit cards come loaded with valuable perks such as complimentary checked baggage, lounge access and priority boarding, as well as coverage for lost luggage and trip cancellation.
  • Rewards are easy to earn. Depending on your spending habits, it’s relatively easy to rack up rewards. Plus, generous welcome bonuses give cardmembers a leg up on accumulating miles and earning status.

Cons

  • Points can be difficult to redeem. Airlines sometimes restrict the number of seats available per flight for those booking with rewards. Blackout dates also restrict exactly when travelers can redeem points for travel, particularly during peak travel periods.
  • Loyalty can be limiting. If you have an airline-branded card, you’re limited to that particular carrier and its network of partner airlines. That’s why it’s so important to choose an airline that is convenient for you to fly.
  • Perks often include caveats. While benefits like trip protection and lounge access can be helpful when plans go awry, some of these benefits come with a lot of fine print you need to be familiar with in case there’s a hitch in your travel plans.

Most popular airline rewards programs

Delta SkyMiles

While the SkyMiles program is forever moving the finish line with fluctuating point values and rules, its range of redemption options and lack of blackout dates make it a crowd-pleaser. The average point value is 1.3 cents, according to Bankrate*, and rewards don’t expire. There are more than 20 airline partners, so you can go pretty much anywhere in the world on Delta and its SkyTeam partners. Loyal Delta flyers and international travelers will certainly find a lot to love about this program.

United MileagePlus

The United program award tickets are one-way, which opens up your options in terms of how you choose to redeem. You can select seats in a different class in each direction; or you can travel out with a lesser Saver ticket when your plans are flexible, and with an Everyday ticket on the return with firmed-up plans.

You can use miles to request upgrades to a premium cabin, which allows you to benefit from free alcoholic beverages, as well as priority check-in, security line access, boarding, and baggage handling. The average point value is 1.1 cents each*.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

With this loyalty program of Southwest Airlines, flight options are primarily limited to domestic destinations which now include service to Hawaii. It’s also worth noting that its short-haul international service is rapidly expanding. Families with a tendency towards overpacking will appreciate the complimentary additional checked baggage.

Booking is flexible and there aren’t a ton of hidden fees. Southwest Rapid Rewards are, on average, worth 1.5 cents a piece*. While there are no blackout dates and one-way trips are permitted, it’s not the largest of airlines. Southwest currently serves about 120 destinations, and only 11 countries.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

OneWorld member Alaska Airlines offers travelers excellent value across the board, particularly in terms of earning potential, average airfares, and general service. Alaska is the fifth largest airline in the U.S. with a focus on West Coast service, underserved markets in the Pacific Northwest, as well as Canada, Mexico, and Central America.

By Alaska’s math, Mileage Plan members earn 30% more miles than with other domestic loyalty programs. While Alaska’s fees are on par with other domestic carriers, its flexibility around ticket changes and rebookings makes it a favorite among flyers. The average point value is 1.1 cents each*.

American Airlines AAdvantage

With about 350 destinations to more than 50 countries, American Airlines, with regional carrier American Eagle, is one of the largest airlines in the world. Its network of OneWorld partners makes it a strong choice for world travelers. The airline partners with OneWorld Alliance carriers as well as other partners.

While there’s the MileSAAver awards, which means you can book award flights at a low number of miles, there are downsides, such as some quirky rules and the need for flexibility when booking. American Advantage points are worth 1 cent each* on average.

British Airways Executive Club

OneWorld partner British Airways can eat up your miles, called Avios, but the experience is superior. There is a feature called Reward Flight Savers, advertised as the best value reward flights, which is available on return flights in Europe and southern Africa. Like other loyalty programs, you can use Avios to upgrade, for a hotel stay or getting a rental car. Avios points are worth 0.7 cents each* on average.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Flying to roughly a dozen countries, Virgin Atlantic is a 35-year-old British airline with a number of stops in the U.S. Flying Club, Virgin Atlantic’s loyalty program, offers dozens of partners, including Delta. You can redeem as few as 7,500 Virgin Points for a one-way flight through Delta. Other partners include KLM, Air France and other international airlines, as well as hotels such as Hilton and IHG.

The Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Virgin Points are worth a whopping 2.6 cents on average*. You can also convert rewards into Virgin Points through some of the top card issuer programs, such as Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Do airline miles expire?

When it comes to airline rewards, few things are more frustrating than seeing your hard-earned points and miles expire before you’ve had a chance to use them. Unfortunately, only a few airline rewards programs offer miles that never expire, with the vast majority requiring you to either earn or redeem miles within one or two years or risk forfeiting the miles in your account. In some cases, you can have expired miles restored to your account, but don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a reinstatement fee.

Here’s how airline point and mile expiration breaks down with some of the most popular airline rewards programs:

Airline / rewards programDo miles expire?How to keep miles from expiring
Alaska AirlinesYes, after 36 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months, or reactivate them between 25 and 36 months of inactivity
American Airlines AAdvantageYes, after 24 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months
British Airways / AviosYes, after 36 months of no activityEarn or redeem Avios at least once every 36 months
Cathay Pacific / Asia MilesYes, after 18 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months
DeltaNoN/A
EtihadYes, after 18 months of no activity (for non-Etihad Guest Platinum members)Earn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months, or maintain Etihad Guest Platinum status (Platinum members’ miles don’t expire)
Air France / KLM (Flying Blue)Yes, after 24 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months
JetBlueNoN/A
QantasYes, after 18 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months
Southwest Rapid RewardsNoN/A
United MileagePlusNoN/A
Virgin Atlantic Flying ClubNoN/A

How to choose an airline credit card

Who should get an airline credit card

  • Airline loyalists. If you often use a specific airline, an airline card can deliver boosted rewards and superior redemptions.
  • Frequent flyers. Want to earn lots of points or miles? You’ll earn more if you’re often traveling with your favorite airline.
  • Big shoppers. Many airline cards have an annual fee, so you’ll need to plan on using your card enough to recoup the cost of that fee.
  • Fine print readers. The rules of an airline rewards program can be tough to navigate, so make sure you are prepared to follow them.

Who should skip an airline credit card

  • Last-minute travelers. Airline rewards programs often have blackout dates and seating restrictions, so airline cards may not suit the procrastinator.
  • Balance carriers. If you carry a balance to the next month, you will incur interest charges, negating the benefits of rewards. If you are prone to carrying a balance, consider a top low interest credit card instead.
  • Those who live far from an airline hub. If you live in a midsize city, the airline of your choice may not fly there, making it more difficult to earn rewards.
  • Infrequent travelers. If there are only airline reward offered, it may be difficult to earn enough rewards to make the card worth your while.

How to make the most of an airline credit card

Consider how frequently you fly

Simply put, if you don’t fly more than a couple of times a year, you probably don’t need an airline credit card. While some airline credit cards let you earn miles on everyday purchases, like gas or groceries, you generally get the most bang for your buck by redeeming for free flights. And while many cards have moved away from blackout or expiration dates on miles, you’re not likely to recoup the annual fee associated with most of these cards if you’re not cashing in your rewards each year or taking advantage of the ancillary perks a card entitles you to.

If your spending tends to vary, consider a general rewards credit card or a cash back credit card instead.

Identify your carrier of choice

If you do fly frequently, consider next whether you tend to do so on the same carrier. (That’s generally dictated by whether you live near an airline hub or a major airport serviced by carriers with a large flight network.) If so, that brand’s airline credit card could help you earn award flights more quickly, qualify for elite status and receive perks that let you travel in style.

If you’re more likely to fly on a variety of carriers throughout the year or you like to comparison-shop for deals across travel providers, consider a general-purpose travel credit card. We’re partial to the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which offers 2X miles on general purchases and lets you redeem rewards as statement credits for a wide variety of travel expenses.

Account for a card’s transfer partners

Many general-purpose travel credit cards let you transfer your points to partnering airlines. Review their list of current partners to see if they’re in line with your travel habits. Transferring points is often a great way to get a bit more bang for your buck. Learn other ways to maximize credit card rewards.

Ask yourself if you check a bag

Most airline’s charge $30 for a first checked bag and $40 for a second, so if you frequently travel with a suitcase, an airline credit card that lets you skip that charge can save you money or, at least, cover a card’s annual fee before you factor in the rewards.

Decide if you’re looking for lounge access

Some premium travel rewards credit cards offer access to a large number of airport lounges, irrespective of brand. The Platinum Card from American Express, for example, grants cardholders access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection®, which includes more than 1,400 airport lounges around the world. The Chase Sapphire Reserve, meanwhile, comes with complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges in more than 1,300 locations around the world.

Are airline credit cards worth it in 2023?

If you travel frequently and tend to fly the same carrier each time, a good airline credit card could help you earn loyalty points (and, by extension, award flights) faster. They could also entitle you to benefits that make flying more enjoyable or cost-effective, like priority boarding, a free checked bag, elite status and upgrades, when available.

Although travel restrictions have relaxed compared to the past few years, it’s important to carefully consider how often you plan to fly in the future before deciding on whether to get an airline credit card.

Of course, if the card has no annual fee, we say it’s a no-brainer. While you’re waiting around for your next trip to roll around, you may as well be accumulating points or miles to fund future getaways. If the card has an annual fee, you should make sure that your estimated yearly rewards and perk value makes up for the annual fee.

When assessing whether or not an airline credit card is a good option for you, here are five things to consider:

  1. You plan to regularly fly with the same airline – If you live near a hub of the airline partnering with the card you are eyeing, that might be a good card for you. Also, if you find yourself often turning to a specific airline for your travel needs, this card might be the right choice.
  2. You will use the card’s perks – You’ll want to look at the travel features beyond just the miles offered. TSA PreCheck, free first checked bags, lounge access, cancellation insurance: These are a few of the features strong airline cards may offer.
  3. The perks outweigh the annual fee – There’s often an annual fee with airline cards, so you’ll need to assess whether the rewards and the perks make the card worthwhile once the annual fee has been charged.
  4. You have the credit score for the card – Airline cards typically require good or excellent credit (a FICO score of at least 670). There’s no point in applying for a card if you don’t have the required credit score, because applying will temporarily impact your score even if you don’t get the card.
  5. You can pay the full balance each month – If you get any type of rewards card, airline cards included, it’s important to make sure you can pay your balance in full each month. Otherwise, any earned points or miles are basically eaten by the interest you’d owe.

How we picked the best airline credit cards

Research methodology: We analyzed 148 airline credit cards to identify the best ones currently on the market. The major factors we considered in making our Editor’s picks include:

  • Rewards rates: The best airline credit cards offer at least 2X points on purchases with their specific carrier. General-purpose travel credit cards might offer between 1.25X to 2X miles on all purchases.
  • Rewards value: Not all miles are created equal. We looked at how much each mile was worth when redeemed for airfare. We also considered how much each mile was worth across additional redemption options, when available.
  • Ancillary airline perks: The best airline credit cards offer extra benefits, like a free checked bag, priority boarding, automatic elite status, airport lounge access or more. Many offer travel credits for items like Global Entry or TSA Precheck. We weighted cards more heavily if they offered these types of benefits.
  • Rates and fees: Many airline credit cards charge annual fees and, as a rewards credit card, they tend to carry higher APRs than low-interest counterparts. However, we still considered if these costs were reasonable relative to the category and the benefits each card carried.

Full criteria used: Rewards rates, rewards categories, airline alliance partners, other transfer partners, sign-up bonus, point values, redemption options, redemption flexibility, elite status, annual fee, travel credits, airport lounge access, miscellaneous travel benefits, rates and fees, customer service, credit needed, upgrade and downgrade options. For more detail on our review scores, see our ratings process for airline cards.

More information on airline credit cards

For more information on all things travel cards, continue reading content from our credit card experts:


* All values are based on Bankrate’s latest point and mile valuations.


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